Is Dubai becoming the new hub for gamers?

Gamers in the emirate explain why the desert city has become a paradise for digital adventurers and hobbyists

By Karishma Nandkeolyar

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Fernando Nahum in action
Fernando Nahum in action

Published: Fri 24 Nov 2023, 11:02 AM

Last updated: Fri 24 Nov 2023, 11:03 AM

According to gaming statistics, there are approximately 3.09 billion gamers worldwide, which means roughly 37 per cent of the global population is embellishing its lives with Fifa, GTA, Pokemon, or even Candy Crush.

They are not just dabblers; they are serious enthusiasts to whom gaming has become a life-sweetener.

If you aren’t part of the growing multitude already, and if you are wondering why gaming is receiving such copious love, listen to these stories of gaming devotees who descended on Dubai to get their essential e-sporting and hobby fix.

Love at first sight

“When I went to the store Back to Games (in Jumeriah) for the first time in Dubai they welcomed me like family, they taught me how to play and I was hooked,” says 38-year-old Mexcian expat Fernando Nahum. He belongs to a community of gamers who meet once a week to play war games such as Warhammer 40K and Warhammer Kill Team with miniatures.

Nahum is a self-professed history buff and it was the lore behind Warhammer that first intrigued him. “When I was in Mexico last year, I started to read the books and listen to the lore on YouTube. I was pretty interested in this, because I like military history and I was looking at battles and Warhammer appeared. I started to listen on YouTube, then I went into the books and I just got hooked. I found out that everything that’s behind the lore, the books have a representation in a game,” he explains. While he wanted to try the game, it would take a trip to Dubai for him to actually play – “it’s difficult in Mexico, it’s expensive”.

“I think the best thing about [Warhammer] is how the lore is represented. And the community – it’s awesome. It’s really nice to have someone you can go and talk to. Especially if you are a foreigner.”

How it works

To play you must be passionate. It requires an investment not only of money but also of time and effort. The dividends however are manifold – including a community of like-minded people to hang out with. 39-year-old French expat Matthieu Varagnat, who has been in the UAE since the end of August, says the games have helped him make friends throughout his life. “I have made friends when I was a kid like that. In France I found a community and moving here, I knew nobody and made a lot of companions like that,” he explains.

The software developer and father of two, who spends an average of 30 minutes a day on the game Warhammer 40k, says games are all inclusive. He even plays with his two daughters aged 9 and 12. “The smaller one, I played with her with the miniatures I had as a kid. I took out all my old boxes, all my miniatures from when I was a kid as we were playing. Initially, we were playing with simple rules that I made up myself and then I found a version online that is very simple. It’s called ‘one page rule’. I actually enjoyed myself as well but it’s sufficiently simple that I can play with my nine-year-old daughter as well.”

The many rewards

Varagnat adds that even when his daughters are not interested in the gaming aspect of it, they can be entertained with the hobbyist bit. “They both paint miniatures. I found a game in UK where they have andromorphic miniatures, so you have animals like a rabbit or squirrel knight…my daughters love the miniatures and love painting them.”

He explains that the lure of the game is three-fold. “The fun you have from just a gaming point of view, the painting from an point of view and you have the imagination and the setting and the story. You have people who are interested in one or both or all three,” Varagnat says.

It’s the element of creation that Artem Gusamov, who is from Russia, likes the best. “I guess two main parts to the hobby: building, painting and collecting aspect of it and the gaming aspect of it. I certainly lean more towards painting and assembling and kitbashing the models,” he says. Kitbashing is basically when you take two models and mix them up to create a new model. “I've been an artistic kid for a long part of my life. And I can have the patience to sit down and actually paint,” he says. The Dubai-based real estate agent spends about two hours a day plus weekends on his hobby. “We have more than a little bit of a community here for the skirmish format. Skirmish is basically a smaller version of the game - it requires 10-15 models maximum.”

He insists that while miniature war games such as Warhammer and A Song of Ice and Fire Tabletop Miniatures Game look daunting, they are, in fact, not so. “It’s not as intimidating as it looks. At first, I was also intimidated about it. But slowly, and gradually, you make mistakes, and you make poor decision choices regarding the collecting and building and painting part of the hobby, but with that, you kind of get a sense of attachment to it.”

Building a sense of belonging

In Dubai, when you are duking it out, you are doing it with a gang of multicultural people from all walks of life, expanding your spheres of influence and acquaintance. UK expat Matt Wilson, 49, who is the founder of the Facebook group WePlay Nation, says one of the great things about the gaming scene in the UAE is how inclusive it is. “Here, in the UAE, we are very lucky actually, because we’ve got a mix of cultures, nationalities, backgrounds, and it kind of levels the playing field. So, in our community, I’ve played with blue collar workers, CEOs, Filipinos, Arabs…it’s inclusive. There are not many things that you can do.”

Gavin Cameron’s love for miniatures began at the age of nine. “My dad bought me something for Christmas, but my um made him take it back to the shop, because I was 9 or 10 years old but the box said it was for 12 years and up,” he laughs, adding that this denial was his first encounter and he was certain it wouldn’t be his last. The Scott, who has been in the UAE for almost six years, says, “I didn’t know anyone when I moved here; I went in to buy some paint to a local shop and I was added to a WhatsApp group and I got to know a few people and I’ve made some very good friends.”

The gamers are a friendly bunch and are quick to call to action any others who may be interested in playing. “You’ll always find someone who will help you, teach you, guide you,” says Gusamov.

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